Monday, May 31, 2010

China aims to be become supercomputer superpower

jaguar supercomputerChina is ramping up efforts to become the world's supercomputing superpower.

Its Nebulae machine at the National Super Computer Center in Shenzhen, was ranked second on the biannual Top 500 supercomputer list.

For the first time, a second Chinese supercomputer appears in the list of the top ten fastest machines.

However, the US still dominates the list with more than half the Top 500, including the world's fastest, known as Jaguar.

The Cray computer, which is owned by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, has a top speed of 1.75 petaflops.

One petaflop is the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

It is used by scientists conducting research in astrophysics, climate science and nuclear energy.

By comparison, China has 24 machines in the list. Its fastest has a top speed of 1.20 petaflops, more than double the speed of its previous top supercomputer. However, it has a theoretical top speed of nearly 3 petaflops, which would make it the fastest in the world.

The fastest machine in the UK - which has 38 supercomputers on the list - is housed at the University of Edinburgh. It has a top speed of 0.27 petaflops.

"The Top 500 list definitely has an element of flag waving," said Dr Jon Lockley, manager of the Oxford Supercomputing Centre.

Quick thinking

He said China was rapidly becoming a "player" in high performance computing.

Dawning, the company behind the fastest Chinese machine, is reportedly building an even faster machine for the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin. In addition, it is also developing home-grown silicon chips to power the behemoths.

The machines tend to be used for industrial research, such as aircraft design and petroleum exploration.

Dr Lockley said this was becoming increasingly common around the world.

"Whenever possible, everything is done in a supercomputer," he said.

"Look at Formula One - it's getting rid of all of its wind tunnels and replacing them with supercomputers. It's the same in the aerospace industry as well.

"It means you can all the modelling in the supercomputer and then do just one real world test."

Many of the US machines, by contrast, are owned by the government and are used to monitor the nuclear weapon stockpile.

The US has one other petaflop machine - owned by the US Department of Energy. Roadrunner, as it is known, held the top spot until Jaguar displaced it in 2009.

All others machines on the list run at so-called teraflop speeds.

A teraflop is the equivalent of one trillion calculations per second.

Spy machinesHowever, scientists are already thinking about so-called exascale machines which would be able to crunch through one quintillion (one million trillion) calculations per second.

An exascale computer has been proposed to process data from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a series of thousands of telescopes spread over 3,000km. The telescope will be based in either Australia or South Africa.

"At that sort of size the challenge is trying to programme the machines,"" said Dr Lockley.

"It has to be fault tolerant - you can't have a situation where an entire task falls over if one bit fails."

The top 500 list was published at the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg, Germany.

It ranks machines by speed. However, according to Dr Lockley, determining which machine is the quickest is a difficult issue.

"It's measured against a theoretical benchmark - if you ran a real-world application you might get a very different answer".

It is also a voluntary list and therefore does not include all machines, such as those at the Oxford Supercomputing Centre and many classified machines owned by governments.

"The spooks have got some pretty big machines," said Dr Lockley.

via BBC News - China aims to be become supercomputer superpower.

Happy Memorial Day

I hope you enjoyed the day. I was down in Santa Cruz on the Boardwalk. Out in the sun. We were having some fun. I saw a sea lion under the Boardwalk. Boardwalk.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pacemakers of Tomorrow Could Be Powered by the Sugar in Your Body

GlucoseChainThe implants of the future will be powered by the energy sources already inside your body. Last week we saw scientists take a step toward this vision by developing a transistor that used the fuel from our cells (a molecule called ATP). And now, a French team has announced the development of a fuel cell that can use the glucose (sugar) inside an animal to produce electricity. Their paper is available free at the journal PLoS One.

The team surgically implanted the device in the abdominal cavity of two rats. The maximum power of the device was 6.5 microwatts, which approaches the 10 microwatts required by pacemakers [Technology Review].

Philippe Cinquin and his team created the cell, in which graphite electrodes are coated with enzymes that oxidize glucose to produce energy. Then connectors carry the electricity from the cell to whatever it’s powering.

Unfortunately, the enzymes used in past glucose biofuel cells were not suitable for implants, because they either required highly acidic conditions to work or were inhibited by a variety of ions found in the body. The newly developed devices lack these constraints and are the first functional implantable glucose biofuel cells, with prototypes in rats stably generating power for at least three months [Scientific American].

The great benefit of these systems would be that they are long-lasting and self-sufficient: Who wants to sit around while a pacemaker recharges, or be cut open so its battery can be replaced? That kind of durability, however, remains a ways away for these biofuel cells. ...

via Pacemakers of Tomorrow Could Be Powered by the Sugar in Your Body | 80beats | Discover Magazine.

Hypersonic aircraft shatters aviation records

x-51a.jpg image by tjandralphThe Air Force tests an unmanned X-51 WaveRider off the coast near Point Mugu. Launched from a B-52 bomber, it hits 3,500 mph and travels for 200 seconds before plunging into the ocean as planned.

An aircraft resembling a large bodyboard detached from a flying B-52 bomber and then shot across the Pacific on Wednesday at more than 3,500 mph, shattering aviation records and reigniting decades-long efforts to develop a vehicle that could travel faster than a speeding bullet.

The unmanned X-51 WaveRider, powered by an air-breathing hypersonic engine that has virtually no moving parts, was launched midair off the coast near Point Mugu. It sped westward for 200 seconds before plunging into the ocean as planned. Previous attempts at hypersonic flights lasted no more than 10 seconds.

"Everything went very well for a first flight," said Charlie Brink, the X-51 program manager for the Air Force. "For things to go off the way they did, we're confident this technology has a bright future."

Since the 1960s, the Air Force has been flirting with hypersonic technology, which can propel vehicles at a velocity that cannot be achieved from traditional turbine-powered jet engines. ...

via Hypersonic aircraft shatters aviation records -

Ninjas rescue student from muggers

ninjaA STUDENT has been saved from a vicious assault - not by the boys in blue but the men in black.

Ninjas scared off three thugs who had the misfortune to attack the 27-year-old medical student outside their warrior school.

The German exchange student had been targeted by the men while he was riding the late-night train home, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

They demanded he give them his wallet but when he refused and got off the train, they followed.

They pounced as he made his way through a dark alley in Sydney's west.

They grabbed his phone and iPod and kicked him while he lay on the ground.

However, the men were spotted by a member of a nearby dojo.

Nathan Smith told his sensei and the rest of the students at Ninja Senshi Ryu and they rushed out to confront the thugs - all dressed in traditional black ninja garb.

On seeing the ninjas, the men fled, only to be later arrested by police.

"You should have seen their faces when they saw us in ninja gear coming towards them," the school's sensei, Kaylan Soto, told the Herald.

They also failed to notice a ninja, Nathan Smith, standing in the shadows outside the dojo. Mr Smith immediately alerted his sensei, or teacher.

Another ninja, Steve Ashley, said: "It was probably the worst place in Sydney where they could have taken him."

via Ninjas rescue student from muggers | Herald Sun.

UFO, extraterrestrial disclosure linked to public readiness

After more than 210,000 page views of the April 26, 2010, article "Human-looking ETs secretly in U.S?" it seems clear that there is significant public interest in the topic of possible extraterrestrial visitation to Earth, UFOs and equally possible activities of the U.S. defense and intelligence communities regarding these subjects.

The article was about an account of a reported effort by U.S. authorities – Operation TANGO-SIERRA – to investigate a human-looking extraterrestrial who had made contact with a federal employee.

Are people who consider tales like this too gullible? Or, are they open-minded and increasingly aware of highly unusual possibilities?

The same information sources for Operation TANGO-SIERRA are reportedly also those who released information about the alleged Project SERPO. That account involved a mission that allegedly sent 12 specially-selected and highly-trained U.S. military personnel to another planet as guests of friendly extraterrestrial visitors as part of an exchange program.

When we see news about calls for more openness and disclosure about possible government activities in these areas, it also seems clear that human psychology and our preparedness to deal with such possibilities are major elements to consider.

In fact, it might be fair to say that disclosure about possible extraterrestrial visitation to Earth is directly tied to the emotional, spiritual, psychological and social readiness of the public to handle this kind of news. ...

via American Chronicle | UFO, extraterrestrial disclosure linked to public readiness.

Scientists detect huge carbon 'burp' that helped end last ice age

Scientists detect huge carbon 'burp' that helped end last ice ageScientists have found the possible source of a huge carbon dioxide 'burp' that happened some 18,000 years ago and which helped to end the last ice age.

The results provide the first concrete evidence that carbon dioxide (CO2) was more efficiently locked away in the deep ocean during the last ice age, turning the deep sea into a more 'stagnant' carbon repository - something scientists have long suspected but lacked data to support.

Working on a marine sediment core recovered from the Southern Ocean floor between Antarctica and South Africa, the international team led by Dr Luke Skinner of the University of Cambridge radiocarbon dated shells left behind by tiny marine creatures called foraminifera (forams for short).

By measuring how much carbon-14 (14C) was in the bottom-dwelling forams' shells, and comparing this with the amount of 14C in the atmosphere at the time, they were able to work out how long the CO2 had been locked in the ocean.

By linking their marine core to the Antarctic ice-cores using the temperature signal recorded in both archives, the team were also able compare their results directly with the ice-core record of past atmospheric CO2 variability.

According to Dr Skinner: "Our results show that during the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago, carbon dioxide dissolved in the deep water circulating around Antarctica was locked away for much longer than today. If enough of the deep ocean behaved in the same way, this could help to explain how ocean mixing processes lock up more carbon dioxide during glacial periods."

Throughout the past two million years (the Quaternary), the Earth has alternated between ice ages and warmer interglacials. These changes are mainly driven by alterations in the Earth's orbit around the sun (the Milankovic theory).

But changes in Earth's orbit could only have acted as the 'pace-maker of the ice ages' with help from large, positive feedbacks that turned this solar 'nudge' into a significant global energy imbalance.

Changes in atmospheric CO2 were one of the most important of these positive feedbacks, but what drove these changes in CO2 has remained uncertain. ...

via Scientists detect huge carbon 'burp' that helped end last ice age.

Solar Scientists Agree That the Sun's Recent Behavior Is Odd, but the Explanation Remains Elusive

SDO image of the sunIn very rough terms, the sun's activity ebbs and flows in an 11-year cycle, with flares, coronal mass ejections and other energetic phenomena peaking at what is called solar maximum and bottoming out at solar minimum. Sunspots, markers of magnetic activity on the sun's surface, provide a visual proxy to mark the cycle's evolution, appearing in droves at maximum and all but disappearing at minimum. But the behavior of our host star is not as predictable as all that—the most recent solar minimum was surprisingly deep and long, finally bottoming out around late 2008 or so.

Solar physicists here at the semiannual meeting of the American Astronomical Society this week offered a number of mechanisms to shed light on what has been happening on the sun of late, but conceded that the final answer—or more likely answers—remains opaque. Beyond scientific understanding, motivations for better solar weather forecasts include hopes to use them to safeguard against electrical grid disruptions, damage to Earth-orbiting satellites and threats to the health of space travelers posed by solar radiation flare-ups.

One researcher has looked for clues to solar weather in the meridional flow, which moves from the solar equator toward the poles, and which seems to change speed during the shifting solar cycle. Another looked at the solar "jet stream," a slow current that originates at solar mid-latitudes and pushes in a bifurcated stream toward both the equator and the poles. Another scientist examined the inner workings of the sun through the oscillation of sound waves propagating through the solar interior; yet another looked at magnetic maps to chart the shifting flux across the sun.

"I think we're almost in violent agreement that this is an interesting minimum," said David Hathaway of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. By several measures—geomagnetic activity, weakness of polar magnetic fields, flagging solar deflection of galactic cosmic rays—the minimum was the deepest on record, Hathaway said, although some of those records contain just a few cycles. Hathaway focused on shifting speeds of the meridional flow, finding that the flow was anomalously fast at the most recent minimum. But, speaking of heliophysics forecasting techniques in general, he cautioned against leaping to any conclusions based on small-number statistics. "We need to be careful about extending what we've seen in one or two cycles to all of them," he said.

Frank Hill of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) instead examined the jet stream, a periodic east–west flow of material that corresponds with the onset and end of the solar cycle. With helioseismology data, which track acoustic oscillations on the sun, researchers can check in on the progress of the jet stream at depths of roughly 1,000 kilometers, potentially allowing for better forecasts of the timing of the solar cycle. But it is "still too early to tell" if the jet stream can robustly predict solar activity, Hill acknowledged, noting that the stream could be a cause or an effect of the cycle.

Hill's NSO colleague Sushanta Tripathy also turned to helioseismology to investigate the recent solar minimum, finding that in acoustic oscillations deep within the sun there were in fact two separate minima—one in late 2007 that did not correspond to the sunspot minimum, and one around late 2008 that did. In prior data, from 1995 to 2007, the frequency shifts in the oscillations had matched up well with the sunspot counts. And at shallower depths within the sun, the seismic and sunspot activity were in phase for the most recent solar minimum as well. All in all, the cycle was definitely unusual, Tripathy said.

Julia Saba of SP Systems, Inc., and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., had yet another approach, turning to magnetic maps to track regional differences on the sun. Her approach accurately forecast the timing of the 2008 solar minimum 18 months in advance, she said, but acknowledged that the forecast had been revised from an earlier prediction. Based on current data, Saba said, the next solar cycle looks like it will be weak and prolonged. But that could all change—her predictions assume "that the sun doesn't change on us again."

After hearing his colleagues' various approaches to investigating the sun's behavior, Hill took stock of a field with many open questions. "My main impression of all this is I'm gratified to see that we all agree that this is an interesting minimum," Hill said. "What's not so gratifying is we have no clue why any of these effects are happening." ...

via Solar Scientists Agree That the Sun's Recent Behavior Is Odd, but the Explanation Remains Elusive: Scientific American.

DNA replication... without life

Providing a perfect setting for life to replicate (Image: University of Delaware/JGI/DOE)THE precursor of life may have learned how to copy itself thanks to simple convection at the bottom of the ocean. Lab experiments reveal how DNA replication could have occurred in tiny pores around undersea vents.

One of the initial steps towards life was the first molecule capable of copying itself. In the open ocean of early Earth, strands of DNA and loose nucleotides would have been too diluted for replication to occur. So how did they do it?

Inside many undersea hydrothermal vents, magnesium-rich rocks react with sea water. Such reactions create a heat source that could drive miniature convection currents in nearby pores in the rock, claim Christof Mast and Dieter Braun of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany. They propose that such convection could concentrate nucleotides, strands of DNA, and polymerase, providing a setting that would promote replication.

Sea water inside pores on or near a vent's chimney may undergo thermal convection because the water at the wall of the pore closest to the vent's heat source would be warmer than the water near the furthermost wall, say Mast and Braun. If the pore contained strands of DNA, nucleotides, and polymerase they would ride upward in the warm current. The DNA strands would also be "unzipped" in the heat, splitting into two strands that each serve as templates for eventual replication.

All these components would then tend to shift away from the rising warmer region. In air, particles typically shift into a colder current because they are more likely to be pushed away by warmer, more energetic molecules than those on the cooler, calmer side. The researchers reckon a similar process would occur in the fluid in the vents.

Over time, the DNA templates, polymerase and nucleotides would collect at the bottom of a pore. Once there, they could become concentrated enough for the polymerase to bind new nucleotides to the single-strand DNA templates, replicating the original DNA (see diagram).

To test this theory, Mast and Braun put these ingredients into tubes 1.5 millimetres long. They used a laser to heat one side of the water and create thermal convection. Sure enough, they found that the DNA doubled every 50 seconds (Physical Review Letters, vol 104, p 188102).

But how would any replicated DNA have then moved between pores to recombine with new templates, producing a variety of configurations? Fatty acids in the water may have provided a shuttle service, says Braun. Last year, a team at Harvard University found that fatty acids driven by convection will form membranes. Such membranes could trap the concentrated genetic material and transport it, he says (Journal of the American Chemical Society, DOI: 10.1021/ja9029818).

"The work shows that DNA can be both concentrated and replicated under a very simple set of conditions," says Nick Lane at University College London.

via DNA replication... without life - life - 27 May 2010 - New Scientist.

Asian bear filmed doing 'kung fu' moves with stick

The footage, which was uploaded to YouTube a few days ago, shows the bear first playing with the 5ft stick with a paw.

The bear then appears to start twirling the stick rapidly around its head using 'kung fu' style moves.

At one point the bear - allegedly named Claude - even throws the stick mid-twirl into the air and catches it.

The three-minute clip of the bear was filmed by Canadian YouTube user alexbuzzkentaroguy at the Asa Zoo in Hiroshima, Japan. He says he then uploaded the clip to YouTube.

Animal behaviour expert Professor Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado said the footage appears genuine.

He said: "This is an amazing example of animal object control. This goes beyond normal animal usage of complex tools but then again you can train seals to balance balls on their noses and train elephants to paint with their trunks, so why not this.

"I would guess this is the result of extreme training and would find it hard to believe the animal taught itself this spontaneously."

Professor Bekoff added that the bear's 'Kung Fu' moves were not natural and the bear must have been in a situation of extreme boredom.

The Asa Zoo has not yet confirmed if the footage is genuine.

The unedited version of the clip plus a previous edited version have so far gained more than 800,000 hits.

via Asian bear filmed doing 'kung fu' moves with stick - Telegraph.

Adventurer crosses English Channel using helium balloons

Jonathan Trappe up in the air: Adventurer tries to cross channel using helium baloonsonathan Trappe with his balloon after landing on farmland in Moeres, France: Adventurer crosses English Channel using helium balloonsHe set off from a field in Kent early this morning hoping to become the first cluster balloonist to cross the stretch of water. The US adventurer, 36, was held at the mercy of the prevailing winds beneath his colourful collection of gigantic inflatables. He set off from Kent Gliding Club in Challock, near Ashford, shortly after 5am, taking about an hour to travel the 10 miles to the coast. Mr Trappe spent about an hour and three quarters sailing silently over the Channel before reaching Dunkirk. As he soared high over the French countryside he continued heading towards the Belgium border. But after cutting away balloons to aid his descent, Mr Trappe made a textbook landing in a French cabbage field shortly after 9am. He avoided a power line and bounced a short distance before coming to a halt.

"It was just an exceptional, quiet, peaceful experience," he told Sky News. Asked why he wanted to take on the challenge, he said:  "Didn't you have this dream - grabbing on to a bunch of toy balloons and floating off? I think it's something that's shared across cultures and across borders.

"Just this wonderful fantasy of grabbing on to toy balloons and floating into open space."

He described sailing over the white cliffs of Dover in complete silence as "tremendously peaceful, tremendously beautiful".

And there was even time for a "civil" chat with a man on the ground. The trained pilot added:  "There are risks and we work to methodically reduce the risk so we can have a safe and fun flight.

"Because really it's only about dreams and enjoying an adventure and that's only enjoyable when it is safe.

"Mr Trappe has already made a number of trips using his balloon cluster. Last month he claimed a new world record for the longest free-floating balloon flight, flying 109 miles across North Carolina. ..

via Adventurer crosses English Channel using helium balloons - Telegraph.

On Vacation

Hi. Few posts until Tuesday as I'm doing some sightseeing. Can you tell where these iPhone photos were taken? ( more to come )

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

UFO Spiral in the sky seen and heard across Western Canada. Hoax or cover up?

Event: Friday, May 21. Time: Unknown

The Norway spiral comes to mind when received photographs and even an amazing video of the event. An object swooped down from the sky and then returned in a brilliant display on Friday night across the Western Canada areas.

Three different photographers have given their photos to in what looks like something out of a science fiction movie. We cannot see what would cause this one Earth. The Norway spiral was said to be caused by a missile launch in the Russian territory. But what is this?

The only known areas to launch on the Western coast are the Vandenberg Air Force Base and Alaskan areas. Vandenberg confirms no launches and Kodiak Island has to be ruled out due to the direction of travel (from the west).

The photographs show a very similar shape and mysterious object off the coast of Canada. The object is not a missile as one photograph from the beach has the trajectory curving up! What is it?

A video was sent to and the web team has added it to the video server on The video shows the entire sequence of this object as filmed by Steven Murray.

"I have four sky cameras to catch meteors on and number three caught it", Murray said. "I saw it from my office while doing work. The object was on the monitor. By the time I rushed outside the object was gone but the loudest boom I ever heard from a distance struck shortly after."

via UFO Spiral in the sky seen and heard across Western Canada.

Something real happened and then it seems there was a quick cover up. There were multiple eye witnesses and photos from multiple points of view.

However, one person said the video is not right:
"I know that is what I saw.  ... the video is not what it looked like.  The PHOTOS are what it looked like!  Someone must have done a re-creation of the actual event.  The photos are 100% real!"

The video does not match the uneven shape of the spiral in the photos. The video looks high quality, but still fake, like a Star Trek ship going to warp speed (but better).  One thing I heard is that the best UFO video footage ever was taken and this CG work was overlayed then it was released. So, in the video the light ship is drawn over whatever really was first captured.

Some youtubers are saying the guy who released the fake looking video (Kevin Martin?) was visited by people, had his life was threatened, his family was threatened, and he was told not to talk about it.

The reason for creating a fake video would be so you can then have someone admit to the hoax.  Sure enough, here is the "admission" that it was a hoax:
What looked like numerous photographs and videos of a ship entering the cosmos was actually put together by not a team, but one person.

Kevin Martin, a Southern California Weatherman has come forward as the hoaxer to what is likely the biggest hoax ever created.

Martin claims he e-mailed the material to in an effort to test a theory of his out.

“Who is more gullible, Americans or Europeans?”, asked Martin. “A growing number of conspiracy theorists are American, while Europe seems to have their head on straighter to the facts. I decided to test it out with a half done CGI video and photoshop photo stills, sending it to Betty Morgan at Space News section.”

Martin claims that his theory was correct, Europeans have a better handle on reality than Americans.

Upon further investigation it seems like Martin is a master at marketing, graphics, and even manipulation. was fooled and I apologize for that.

According to a comment UFOs about:

the hoaxer has already come forward and confessed about this, and an editor has lost her job over it!

Question: Did anyone real really see and hear this? If so, this is a major cover up. Is this a hoax, or a hoax of a hoax?

The so called hoaxer just came forward and said he lied about hoaxing the video. The real guy Steven Murray came forward and said the video is real and the hoaxer is lying, he said he remains quiet because he wants to protect his family. These are the most important videos we have to date, we are being visited. By the way the airplane is moving in the other vid, study it.

...the guy Kevin who said he made it, didn't have the skills to make this. That's why he was busted and had to admit he didn't make it (lol...claim to fame ending in shame). So now the question is, who did?

...The hoaxer has retracted his story, he said he lied about hoaxing the video. The real person Steven Murray said the video is real, but he has been approached and told to keep quiet.

- youtube

And now, the second video:

The second piece was again authored by Ms. Morgan who explained the origin of the second video:

Another video has just surfaced to us from in a jet airliner at 25,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, northwest of Washington State.

Meaning, I guess, that some guy just happened to be pointing his video camera out the window, just after sundown, against what was aparently non-reflective glass by his seat as he cruised above the Prince Rupert area of Western Canada at just the right time.

None of this would be worth addressing but for the fact that the first Weather Space post was linked by Coast to Coast AM's website and C2C is one of the biggest sources of paranormal news on the radio and on the Web. It's therefore inevitable this new spiral UFO will come up for a bit of discussion online. Maybe a good deal of discussion.


A few obvious things:

  • - Both videos, supposedly from two different sources, are almost the exact same length: 1:22.

  • - Both videos seem to follow a pattern - display the anomaly first, then pad the last half of the video with ambient noise: a barking dog and crickets in the first; barely-heard conversation and possible engine noise in the second.

  • - Both videos show what seems to be - especially in the first, "Steven Murray" video - an unusually static background with the motion of the phenomenon in the sky. Also, the action of the "spiral UFO" screams, after a few views, CGI rendering. It's smooth and artful.

Now some of the less obvious details:

  • - At the moment, there have been no reports about this phenomenon made to Not one. All the most recent reports as of May 23 came from Great Britain or the United States. Why is this notable? People report the most ridiculous things imaginable to MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network) daily. This isn't a deal-killer, of course - the Norway Spiral wasn't reported on MUFON (as far as I could tell) until it was already a major news story.

  • - An examination of still photos posted with the videos on The Weather Space articles were somehow manipulated with Adobe Photoshop. Link 1, link 2. Both images were created and saved in Adobe Photoshop CS 4. This isn't a deal-killer, either - some people simply use Photoshop to shrink images to an appropriate size to use online.

  • - Numerous "legitimate" news outlets reported on the Norway Spiral shortly after images of it began to pop up on message boards all over the Web. It was unavoidable, even for normally skeptical press organizations. The Norway Spiral had simply been seen by too many people. As yet, though, the Western Canada Spiral, which supposedly was witnessed in the sky over Prince Rupert, hasn't even made it into a Prince Rupert publication.


Stalin blocked two attempts to kill Hitler, Russian general says

Stalin blocked two attempts to kill Hitler, Russian general says Josef Stalin blocked two attempts to kill Adolf Hiter during the Second World War, fearing that his replacement as Nazi leader would make peace with the Western Allies, a top Russian general said.

A plan to attack Hitler's bunker in 1943 and a 1944 plot involving an assassin who had gained the trust of the Nazi leadership were both cancelled on Stalin's orders, General Anatoly Kulikov told a historical conference in Moscow on Tuesday.

"A plan to assassinate Hitler in his bunker was developed, but Stalin suddenly cancelled it in 1943 over fears that after Hitler's death his associates would conclude a separate peace treaty with Britain and the United States," Russia's RIA news agency quoted Gen Kulikov as saying.

In 1944, the Soviets again plotted to kill Hitler after a potential assassin managed to gain the trust of the Nazi leadership. "A detailed assassination plan was prepared, but Stalin cancelled it again," Gen Kulikov was quoted as saying.

Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945, as Soviet forces closed on Berlin, effectively ending the war in Europe and setting the stage for the Cold War stand-off between Russia and the West.

An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens died in the 1941-1945 war with Nazi Germany.

Gen Kulikov was Russia's interior minister from 1995 to 1998 under President Boris Yeltsin. He said that the Club of Military Leaders, which he heads, would include details of the assassination attempts in a forthcoming book on the Second World War.

via Stalin blocked two attempts to kill Hitler, Russian general says - Telegraph.

Elderly Chicago Couple Buried Alive in Trash

An elderly couple, characterized by police as hoarders, were found buried under mountains of trash in their South Side Chicago house Monday, May 24, 2010.Two people in their 70s are hospitalized in critical condition after they were found buried under mounds of trash in their home on Chicago's South Side, CBS Station WBBM reports.

Police had conducted a well-being check Monday evening, as the couple hadn't been heard from in three weeks.

Police Lt. Dale Kingsley said their Grand Crossing neighborhood home was "packed from floor to ceiling" with garbage.

Officials said the couple - a 79-year-old woman and a 76-year-old man - appear to be hoarders. Junk was stacked from the floor to the ceiling in the basement and first and second floors.

Paramedics found the stench so overpowering they had to don hazardous materials suits before going inside the home, according to Fire Department spokesman Kevin MacGregor.

The couple, possibly suffering from malnutrition, were taken to Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center in critical condition, according to Kingsley. were taken to Jackson Park Hospital.

By Tuesday morning their condition had improved, according to a hospital nurse.

Foul play is not suspected, according to Kingsley, who said the building will likely have to be condemned.

via Elderly Chicago Couple Buried Alive in Trash - CBS News.

German bank 'blown up by robbers in botched raid'

The fire brigade clear up at the site of a bank that was blown up in Malliss, northern Germany, 26 May 2010Suspected robbers in Germany appear to have miscalculated the quantity of explosives needed to blow their way into a rural bank.

The building housing the bank in the northern village of Malliss was largely destroyed by an overnight explosion.

The bank's cash machine survived intact and the suspected thieves are not thought to have made away with any money, Germany's Welt Online reported.

No-one was injured, though the blast damaged nearby cars and buildings.

Investigators were working on the assumption that robbers had placed their explosives, possibly made from petrol or acetylene, at the entrance to the bank, German broadcaster NDR said.

The presence of a delivery van near the site of the explosion indicated that the suspected thieves may have intended to drive off with the cash dispenser, local media reported.

via BBC News - German bank 'blown up by robbers in botched raid'.

Meteorites Land in SoHo's Evolution Store

Meteorites for sale.Meteorites have landed in New York City's SoHo neighborhood.

But fear not, fashionistas and art lovers: The boutiques and galleries are perfectly intact. The meteorites arrived last week, not from outer space but from Sweden, and they are for sale at a small shop called Evolution.

The 4.5-billion-year-old alien rocks, known as Muonionalusta meteorites, came from a strewfield first discovered in 1906 by two children tending cattle in a pasture. While kicking stones, they found one that stood out from the rest and brought it back to their village. It was later identified as an iron meteorite.

Since then, meteorite hunters have found pieces in the area and sold them to dealers and stores like Evolution.

But how can the casual shopper be sure they're really rocks that journeyed through the solar system and crashed to Earth before ending up in the middle of SoHo -- and not just rocks?

"The crystalline structure of the iron that they're made out of -- which is typical of meteorites -- you don't see that in iron on the Earth because the crystalline structure can't form this way here," store manager Alex Minott explained to AOL News. "The exterior surface of the meteorite is covered in something called the fusion crust -- when the meteorite passes through the upper atmosphere and gets heated up."

As for the age, the 4.5 billion years is merely an estimate. But give or take a billion years, it's still ridiculously old.

"It's based on what is currently believed by scientists about the origin of the solar system, that iron meteorites of these types are formed roughly coevally with the planets," Minott said. "And since the Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago, we put in about the same date. No one can say exactly, but the iron in the solar system seems to have formed all around the same time." ...

via Meteorites Land in SoHo's Evolution Store - AOL News.

Farmers brace for grasshopper invasion

Hordes of grasshoppers jump in the grass beside a barn in Tooele, Utah, last June. Tooele went through a severe invasion.A major infestation of grasshoppers could descend this summer on Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and the Dakotas, damaging rangeland and crops, ranchers, farmers and scientists say.

In some places, this summer could be the worst for grasshoppers since the mid-1980s, said Charles Brown, a grasshopper suppression specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"There is the potential for widespread outbreaks this summer," Brown said. "We could see grasshopper levels several times of what you would see in a normal year."

Less severe but significant outbreaks are possible in Nevada, Utah and Idaho, according to the USDA.

TECH: Insect wing evolution revealed in recycled genes

The threat assessment is based on results from the USDA's annual survey of adult grasshopper populations conducted in late summer, Brown said. High numbers recorded last year were part of a natural buildup of grasshopper populations that occurs periodically. Those adult grasshoppers laid eggs that could hatch bugs that cause a much bigger problem this summer, he said.

Last year was trouble enough, said Marge West, whose family operates a 10,000-acre cattle, wheat and alfalfa ranch northwest of Gillette, Wyo.

"Last year we lost probably a third of our rangeland," said West, 74. "If it's any worse this year, we're going to have a real disaster."

via Farmers brace for grasshopper invasion -

Online record of 'religious dissenters' published for first time

Daniel DefoeThe records of religious dissenters, including William Blake, Daniel Defoe and JS Mill, have been published online for the first time.

The first tranche of the “Non Conformist Registers” has been put online detailing the hundreds of thousands of people who shook up the established order with alternative ideas over the past 225 years.

The database, which goes live on Wednesday, discloses those who refused to conform to the doctrine of the established Anglican Church including Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers.

The Quakers were the first religious group to denounce slavery while Methodists were great advocates of women’s rights.

More than 224,000 names are included in the register, which dates from the late 17th century, which also detail baptisms, marriages and burial inscriptions.

The digitised papers originally come from the London Metropolitan Archives, which is run by the City of London authority and were compiled by, a family history website.

Some of those who feature in the archive include George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Daniel Defoe (1659-1731), the author of Robinson Crusoe who was the son of Presbyterian nonconformists, William Blake (1757-1827), one of Britain's greatest artists, and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), the British philosopher and politician.

As British non conformists were not recorded by the state until 1837, these documents are, for the most part, the only records of these non conformists in existence. They also form part of the London Historical Records.

Experts say non conformists, who were simply labelled if they listed themselves as being part of “dissenting organisations”, were often intellectuals and freethinkers, who can largely be credited with being behind modern civil liberties. ...

via Online record of 'religious dissenters' published for first time - Telegraph.

Video Gamers Can Control Dreams, Study Suggests

The  third-person shooter game \Playing video games before bedtime may give people an unusual level of awareness and control in their dreams, LiveScience has learned.

That ability to shape the alternate reality of dream worlds might not match mind-bending Hollywood films such as "The Matrix," but it could provide an edge when fighting nightmares or even mental trauma.

Dreams and video games both represent alternate realities, according to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada. But she pointed out that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, while video games are technologically driven by computers and gaming consoles.

"If you're spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it's practice," said Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada. "Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams."

Gackenbach first became interested in video games in the 1990s, when she watched her son repeatedly kiss a new Nintendo gaming console on the way home from a Toys "R" Us. She had previously focused on studying lucid dreams, in which people have awareness of being in a dream.

The last decade of game-related research has since yielded several surprises, although the findings represent suggestive associations rather than definitive proof, Gackenbach cautioned. She is scheduled to discuss her work as a featured speaker at the Sixth Annual Games for Health Conference in Boston this week.

via Video Gamers Can Control Dreams, Study Suggests | LiveScience.

Jayne is great. I've been a fan since I read Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain. (Plenum Publishers (1988). Ed. with Dr. Stephen LaBerge.)

LaBerge is the person who proved to the scientific community that lucid dreams exist.  He did this by planning with lucid dreamers that once they became aware they were dreaming, they would signal with their eyes.  Eye movements can be recorded as can brain waves. By getting simultaneous brain waves along with specific planned eye signals (such as left, forward, left, forward, up, forward,   up, forward,  down, forward, down, forward),  LaBerge showed that lucid dreamers were aware inside of their dreams and could remember and carry out specific experiments.  When you are dreaming, you send out signals to your body when you attempt to move, but quickly afterward, you send a suppression signal. This keeps you from moving while dreaming, but you can still read the signals that are sent to the body with certain instruments. I believe another thing LaBerge did, just to show that the eye signals were not chance, is to plan to tap out his name in Morse code while dreaming. As planned, did this while brain waves showed he was in a dream state.  This is what got me excited about lucid dreams. Communication with the outside world is possible.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GPS is getting $8-billion upgrade, including the replacement of satellites, aim to make the system more reliable, more widespread and much more accurate.Without it, ATMs would stop spitting out cash, Wall Street could blunder billions of dollars in stock trades and clueless drivers would get lost.It's GPS, and it's everywhere.

Although most people may associate the Global Positioning System with the navigation devices that are becoming standard equipment on new cars, GPS has become a nerve center for the 21st century rivaling the Internet — enabling cargo companies to track shipments, guiding firefighters to hot spots and even helping people find lost dogs.

"It's a ubiquitous utility that everybody takes for granted now," said Bradford W. Parkinson.

He should know. Three decades ago, as a baby-faced Air Force colonel just out of the Vietnam War, Parkinson led the Pentagon team that developed GPS at a military base in El Segundo.

Now, scientists and engineers — including those at a sprawling satellite-making factory in El Segundo — are developing an $8-billion GPS upgrade that will make the system more reliable, more widespread and much more accurate.

The new system is designed to pinpoint someone's location within an arm's length, compared with a margin of error of 20 feet or more today. With that kind of precision, a GPS-enabled mobile phone could guide you right to the front steps of Starbucks, rather than somewhere on the block.

"This new system has the potential to deliver capabilities we haven't seen yet," said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst for aerospace research firm Teal Group. "Because GPS touches so many industries, it's hard to imagine what industry wouldn't be affected."

The 24 satellites that make up the GPS constellation — many of them built at the former Rockwell plant in Seal Beach — will be replaced one by one. The first replacement was scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral this weekend. The overhaul will take a decade and is being overseen by engineers at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, where Parkinson and his team developed the current system.

"We know that the world relies on GPS," said Col. David B. Goldstein, the chief engineer for the upgrade. ...

via GPS is getting $8-billion upgrade -

Discovery of stem cell illuminates human brain evolution, points to therapies

UCSF scientists have discovered a new stem cell in the developing human brain. The cell produces nerve cells that help form the neocortex – the site of higher cognitive function—and likely accounts for the dramatic expansion of the region in the lineages that lead to man, the researchers say.

Future studies of these cells are expected to shed light on developmental diseases such as autism and schizophrenia and malformations of brain development, including microcephaly, lissencephaly and neuronal migration disorders, they say, as well as age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies also will allow scientists to track the molecular steps that the cell goes through as it evolves into the nerve cell, or neuron, it produces. This information could then be used to prompt embryonic stem cells to differentiate in the culture dish into neurons for potential use in cell-replacement therapy.

The study is reported in a recent issue of the journal Nature, (vol. no. 464, 554-561; issue 7288).

“This discovery has the potential to transform our understanding of the development and evolution of the human neocortex, the most uniquely human part of the central nervous system,” says the senior author of the study, neurologist Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

“It also should inform our understanding of developmental diseases and advance the creation of cell-based therapies. Many neurological diseases develop in neurons or the neural circuits between them. If we’re going to understand how these disorders develop, we have to better understand how the human and primate cerebral cortex develops.” ...

via Discovery of stem cell illuminates human brain evolution, points to therapies - UCSF News Office.

New study first to directly measure body temperatures of extinct species

Temp Technique 1Temp Technique 3A new study by researchers from five institutions including the University of Florida introduces the first method to directly measure body temperatures of extinct vertebrates and help reconstruct temperatures of ancient environments.

The study, appearing in this week’s online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how scientists could use carbon and oxygen isotopes from fossils to more accurately determine whether extinct animals were warm-blooded or cold-blooded and better estimate temperature ranges during the times these animals lived.

“Without a time machine, it has previously been impossible to directly take the temperature of extinct animals such as dinosaurs or megalodon sharks,” said study co-author Richard Hulbert, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “The method described in the study has been shown to work with 12-million-year-old fossils from Florida and the next step is to look at even older fossils. For example, we have no teeth of Titanoboa, the largest snake ever discovered, but we could use 60-million-year-old crocodylian teeth from the same deposit to find out more about the snake’s environment.”

Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the new “clumped-isotope” paleothermometer method used in the study analyzes two rare heavy isotopes, carbon-13 and oxygen-18, found in tooth enamel, bones and eggshells.

“Clumping is temperature dependent, so at low temperatures you get more clumping together in a mineral while high temperatures mean less clumping,” said lead author and California Institute of Technology postdoctoral scholar Robert Eagle. “If you can measure the clumping accurately enough, you can work out the temperature at which a mineral formed. In the case of teeth and bone, this will be the body temperature of the organism.”

The researchers first tested the method on modern species: the white rhinoceros, Indian elephant, Nile crocodile, American alligator and sand tiger shark. The study confirmed the rhinoceros and elephant, like all mammals, are warm-blooded, and their tooth enamel forms at about 37 degrees Celsius. Researchers confirmed the accuracy within 2 degrees Celsius by measuring teeth of modern sharks from temperature-controlled aquariums. In the next stage of the study, researchers tested fossils of mammoths and older extinct Florida alligator and rhinoceros species.

“The method we present is a big advance because it allows a direct measurement of the body temperature of extinct species, free from the assumptions required with other approaches,” Eagle said. ...

via University of Florida News – New study first to directly measure body temperatures of extinct species.

Deadly, ultra-pure heroin arrives in US

AP PhotoIn this April 22, 2010 photo, Sue Tayon poses for a photo in her home holding an urn containing her daughter Nikki Tayon's ashes in Overland, Mo. Tayon's 28-year-old daughter, Nikki, died of an overdose on heroin that was 90 percent pure, her mother said. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Mexican drug smugglers are increasingly peddling a form of ultra-potent heroin that sells for as little as $10 a bag and is so pure it can kill unsuspecting users instantly, sometimes before they even remove the syringe from their veins.

An Associated Press review of drug overdose data shows that so-called "black tar" heroin - named for its dark, gooey consistency - and other forms of the drug are contributing to a spike in overdose deaths across the nation and attracting a new generation of users who are caught off guard by its potency.

"We found people who snorted it lying face-down with the straw lying next to them," said Patrick O'Neil, coroner in suburban Chicago's Will County, where annual heroin deaths have nearly tripled - from 10 to 29 - since 2006. "It's so potent that we occasionally find the needle in the arm at the death scene."

Authorities are concerned that the potency and price of the heroin from Mexico and Colombia could widen the drug's appeal, just as crack did for cocaine decades ago.

The Latin American heroin comes in the form of black tar or brown powder, and it has proven especially popular in rural and suburban areas.

Originally associated with rock stars, hippies and inner-city junkies, heroin in the 1970s was usually smuggled from Asia and the Middle East and was around 5 percent pure. The rest was "filler" such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, even brick dust. The low potency meant that many users injected the drug to maximize the effect.

But in recent years, Mexican drug dealers have improved the way they process poppies, the brightly colored flowers supplied by drug farmers that provide the raw ingredients for heroin, opium and painkillers such as morphine. Purity levels have increased, and prices have fallen.

Federal agents now commonly find heroin that is 50 percent pure and sometimes as much as 80 percent pure.

The greater potency allows more heroin users to snort the drug or smoke it and still achieve a sustained high - an attractive alternative for teenagers and suburbanites who don't want the HIV risk or the track marks on their arms that come with repeated injections. ...

via The Galveston County Daily News.

Google's Pac-Man Tribute: Bad for Business?

Pac-Man, a video game hero from the early 1980s, got a major publicity boost last weekend when Google placed a fully-functional version of the classic arcade hit on its home page. The tribute was in honor of Pac-Man's 30th anniversary.

Great, so millions of people spent their precious weekend minutes (hours?) maneuvering a maze and gobbling up pac-dots. Problem is, their Pac-Man addiction may have crossed over into the workplace too.

The RescueTime Blog did some quick calculations over the weekend to quantify just how much productivity was lost as a result of workers engaged in Pac-Man rather than their jobs. (RescueTime is a monitoring app for businesses that tracks which software and websites their employees use.)

The RescueTime folks took a random sample of its users--about 11,000 people who spent some "3 million seconds" on Google on Friday May 21, the day the playable Pac-Man logo appeared. They determined that 4.82 million hours of valuable work time were frittered away on Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde.

Here's the breakdown from RescueTime's Tony Wright:

· The average user spent 36 seconds more than usual on on Friday.

· Google Pac-Man consumed 4,819,352 hours of time.

· Lost productivity totaled $120,483,800, assuming the average Google user has a cost of $25/hour.

· That $120 million is enough to pay all 19,835 Google employees for 6 weeks. ...

via Google's Pac-Man Tribute: Bad for Business? - PCWorld.

You can play here, but do it on your own time:

Mobile phone number suspended after three users die in 10 years

Mobile phone number suspended after three users die in 10 years A mobile phone company has suspended the number 0888 888 888 – after every single person assigned to it died in the last 10 years.

The first owner Vladimir Grashnov – the former CEO of Bulgarian mobile phone company Mobitel which issued the number – died of cancer in 2001 aged just 48.

Despite a spotless business record there were persistent rumours that his cancer had been caused by a business rival using radioactive poisoning.

The number then passed to Bulgarian mafia boss, Konstantin Dimitrov, who was gunned down in 2003 by a lone assassin in the Netherlands during a trip to inspect his £500 million drug smuggling empire.

Dimitrov, who died aged 31, had the mobile with him when he was shot while eating out with a model.

Russian mafia bosses – jealous of his drug smuggling operation – were said to have been behind the killing.

The phone number then passed to Konstantin Dishliev, a crooked businessman, who was gunned down outside an Indian restaurant in Bulgaria's capital Sofia after taking over the jinxed line.

Dishliev, an estate agent, had secretly been running a massive cocaine trafficking operation before his assassination in 2005.

He died after £130 million of the drug was intercepted by police on its way into the country from Colombia.

Since then, the number is understood to have been dormant while police maintained an open file on Dishliev's killing and his smuggling ring.

Now phone bosses are said to have suspended the number for good. Callers now get a recorded message saying the phone is "outside network coverage."

A Mobitel spokesman would only say: "We have no comment to make. We won't discuss individual numbers."

via Mobile phone number suspended after three users die in 10 years - Telegraph.

Navy drops buoy on Florida house sonar buoy from a Navy plane on a training flight crashed through the roof of a north Florida home.

Officials say the P-3 Orion had just taken off from Jacksonville Naval Air Station Friday morning when the 3-foot-long, 40-pound cylinder fell more than 500 feet.

The device went through the roof of a Mandarin house, landing next to a bed. Resident Marwan Saman says his daughter had just gotten out of that bed about a half hour earlier.

The Navy sent an explosives demolition team to retrieve the buoy. No injuries were reported, and the Navy was making arrangements to pay for the damage.

A P-3 can carry dozens of the devices to help track submarines. It’s possible a malfunctioning launch tube caused the plane to drop a buoy Friday morning.

via Navy drops buoy on Florida house | navy, buoy, drops - News - Northwest Florida Daily News.

Mind if the US Navy drops in? So, are these buoys explosive? I guess they just sent the explosives team because they don't really have a buoy retrieval from a girl's bedroom team.

Study sheds light into the nature of embryonic stem cells insight into what stem cells are and how they behave could help scientists to grow cells that form different tissues.

A study at the University of Edinburgh has shown that embryonic stem cells consist of cells that switch back and forth between precursors of different cell types. This may be linked to their potential to become any cell type in the body.

The findings could help scientists catch embryonic stem cells at exactly the right point when they are primed to differentiate into cells that form specific tissues.

The study indicates that embryonic stem cells are not a single cell type as previously thought, but comprise a mixture of different cell types from the early embryo that can transform themselves from one type to another.

Scientists previously thought that embryonic stem cells were only able to become the embryonic precursors for adult cells, a property known as pluripotency.

The researchers have now found that they can also turn into cells associated with the placenta. These cells – known as the primitive endoderm - form the yolk sac that helps provide nutrients to the early embryo.

The study, published in the journal PLoS Biology, also shows that embryonic stem cells are able to alternate and transform themselves between cells that create the primitive endoderm and founder embryonic cells, which will go onto form tissues in the body.

Although cells in early embryonic development switch back and forth between these two different cells, signals received from surrounding cells and the embryonic environment allow them to quickly fix on becoming one specific cell type.

However, in the laboratory embryonic stem cells are grown in a dish away from the embryo and as a result exist in a captured state where their identity does not become fixed.

Scientists hope that better understanding of how embryonic stem cells change will enable them create an environment to encourage growth of specific cells.

Dr Josh Brickman, from the University's Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said: "This study changes our view of what embryonic stem cells are and how they behave. Knowing that embryonic stem cells can switch between different founder cell types could help us isolate cells at a point in time when they are primed to become specific cells. This could improve the ability to produce specific cells in the laboratory."

via Study sheds light into the nature of embryonic stem cells.

Visually-guided laser may be viable treatment for abnormal heartbeat new treatment known as a visually-guided laser-balloon catheter successfully interrupted abnormal electrical pulses in patients and pigs with intermittent, irregular heartbeats, in a study reported in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Severe cases of irregular heartbeat may require a procedure called ablation, which destroys a group of “misfiring” cells to stop abnormal electrical impulses that cause erratic heartbeats.

Investigators aimed at cells in the pulmonary veins that carry blood from the lungs to the heart. In the clinical part of the study, they ablated the misfiring cells with 100 percent accuracy. In 84 percent of the pulmonary veins treated, electrical pulses ceased after just one set of laser treatments. Three months after treatment, 90 percent of the treated veins remained inactive.

Unlike other catheters that rely on X-rays for visual guidance, in the new treatment doctors use a slender instrument called an endoscope that provides continuous real-time images. This allows investigators to aim the laser at precise locations in the pulmonary veins. The investigators destroyed cells in an overlapping pattern to completely “disconnect” them and prevent new electrical connections from forming later.

The study’s clinical component included 27 patients, average age 53, two-thirds male, with diagnosed intermittent, abnormal heartbeat (called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, or PAF). All patients had tried at least one drug that did not relieve their symptoms.

For the animal model, the scientists examined pigs because their hearts are structured similar to humans. The investigators inactivated abnormally functioning pulmonary veins 97 percent of the time after the first set of laser-energy treatments. Four weeks later, 80 percent of the ablated veins were still inactive.

Additional research is needed to determine long-term safety and efficacy of balloon-guided, laser catheter, researchers said.

via Visually-guided laser may be viable treatment for abnormal heartbeat.

Dangerous lung worms found in people who eat raw crayfish

If you're headed to a freshwater stream this summer and a friend dares you to eat a raw crayfish – don't do it. You could end up in the hospital with a severe parasitic infection.

Physicians at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have diagnosed a rare parasitic infection in six people who had consumed raw crayfish from streams and rivers in Missouri. The cases occurred over the past three years, but three have been diagnosed since last September; the latest in April. Before these six, only seven such cases had ever been reported in North America, where the parasite, Paragonimus kellicotti, is common in crayfish.

"The infection, called paragonimiasis, is very rare, so it's extremely unusual to see this many cases in one medical center in a relatively short period of time," says Washington University infectious diseases specialist Gary Weil, MD, professor of medicine and of molecular microbiology, who treated some of the patients. "We are almost certain there are other people out there with the infection who haven't been diagnosed. That's why we want to get the word out."

Paragonimiasis causes fever, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue. The infection is generally not fatal, and it is easily treated if properly diagnosed. But the illness is so unusual that most doctors are not aware of it. Most of the patients had received multiple treatments for pneumonia and undergone invasive procedures before they were referred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital or St. Louis Children's Hospital at Washington University Medical Center.

The half-inch, oval-shaped parasitic worms at the root of the infection primarily travel from the intestine to the lungs. They also can migrate to the brain, causing severe headaches or vision problems, or under the skin, appearing as small, moving nodules.

Some of the patients had been in and out of the hospital for months as physicians tried to diagnose their mysterious illness and treat their symptoms, which also included a buildup of fluid around the lungs and around the heart. One patient even had his gallbladder removed, to no avail.

"Some of these invasive procedures could have been avoided if the patients had received a prompt diagnosis," says Michael Lane, MD, an infectious diseases fellow at the School of Medicine who treated some of the patients. "We hope more doctors will now have this infection on their radar screens for patients with an unexplained lingering fever, cough and fatigue."

Once the diagnosis is made, paragonimiasis is easily treated with an oral drug, praziquantel, taken three times a day for only two days. Symptoms begin to improve within a few days and are typically gone within seven to 10 days. All the patients have completely recovered, even one patient who temporarily lost his vision when parasites invaded the brain.  ...

via Dangerous lung worms found in people who eat raw crayfish.

Meltdown: Why ice ages don't last forever

Immense ice sheets have grown and shrunk many times (Image: Ashley  Cooper/SpecialistStock/SplashdownDirect/Rex Features)BACK in 1993, a boy playing football near Nanjing, China, suddenly fell through the ground. He had inadvertently found a new cave, later named Hulu, which has turned out to be a scientific treasure chest. Besides two Homo erectus skeletons, it contains stalagmites that have helped solve one of the greatest mysteries in climate science: why the ice ages came and went when they did.

For more than 2 million years, Earth's climate has been oscillating wildly. Immense ice sheets slowly advance across northern lands, then suddenly melt away to leave the planet basking in a relatively brief period of warmth before the ice creeps back again. Climate scientists have long suspected that these glacial cycles are triggered by changes in our planet's orbit. Yet while this theory has had many successes, it fails to explain one critical fact: why the ice ages end every 100,000 years or so. "It's a big problem," says Larry Edwards of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Edwards is part of a group of researchers who may finally have the answer, thanks to Hulu and other nearby caves. If their conclusions are right, then the greatest ice sheets of the past were remarkably vulnerable, melting away when there was just a glimmer of extra sunlight.


This was far from the end of the story, though. We now know that the polar ice caps started to form around 30 million years ago, as carbon dioxide levels fell. Around 2.5 million years ago, as it got colder still, a cycle began in which more extensive ice sheets repeatedly spread across the northern hemisphere and then retreated. At first, these ice ages were relatively minor and occurred roughly every 41,000 years - just as you would expect based on the changing tilt of Earth's axis.

But then, a little less than a million years ago, the pattern changed. A series of much more severe ice ages began that lasted 100,000 years. That is a big mystery, because although the shape of the Earth's orbit alters slightly over periods of 95,000 and 125,000 years, this has a far weaker effect on the seasons than the other orbital cycles. Why would the deepest ice ages be driven by the smallest changes in summer sunshine?

Faced with this conundrum, some researchers began to explore alternatives to the mainstream orbital theory. One idea is that Earth sometimes passes through interplanetary dust clouds that cut off some of the sun's heat. Or perhaps our star could be periodically getting brighter and dimmer.

Studies of ice cores from Antarctica, however, were starting to point in a different direction. The cores showed there was a close correlation between temperature and the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This suggested a partial answer to the 100,000-year problem: small changes in sunshine might be greatly amplified by rises in CO2 levels. But there was too much uncertainty about the timing of events to say what caused what.

To find out what really happened, researchers need accurate dates, especially for the ends of the ice ages. "I've been after the timing of these terminations for 25 years," says Edwards. While marine sediments and ice cores record the sequence of events, it is difficult to date those events precisely. ...

The stalagmites hold indirect clues to the climate in the form of oxygen isotopes, which record the strength of the summer monsoon. Water containing heavy oxygen condenses more easily, so the moisture-laden air of the monsoon loses most of its oxygen-18 as it moves inland. By the time it reaches central China, the rains are low in oxygen-18, and the stalagmites there record this depletion. But as the last ice age was ending, 11,000 to 17,000 years ago, the oxygen-18 content of the stalagmites increased - a sign that summer monsoon rains were much weaker than usual.

Wang then went looking for a cave with older stalagmites. He struck lucky at nearby Linzhu cave, despite a rather unusual hazard. "Bats stole our guide rope," says Wang. "The cave has many branches, and we lost our way out." When his team did eventually escape, around midnight, they brought out samples that held a much longer climate record. And stalagmites from another nearby cave called Sanbao provided even more precise dates.

... the new evidence points to a coherent story. Ice sheets build up until they near the brink of stability, at which point a modest rise in summer sunshine is enough to tip them over the edge. As the ice sheets melt, fresh water is released into the Atlantic, shutting down ocean circulation and pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. As long as the combined effect of extra summer sunshine and rising CO2 outweighs the regional cooling produced by the shutdown of ocean circulation, the ice keeps melting, pouring more fresh water into the Atlantic. And the melting of a really large ice sheet keeps ocean circulation shut down for a long time, eventually pumping so much CO2 into the atmosphere that the ice sheets melt away in just a few thousand years. ...

via Meltdown: Why ice ages don't last forever - environment - 24 May 2010 - New Scientist.

Study: Many Sunscreens May Be Accelerating Cancer

Chart showing relationship between Vitamin A and tumors.Almost half of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A or its derivatives, according to an evaluation of those products released today.

AOL News also has learned through documents and interviews that the Food and Drug Administration has known of the potential danger for as long as a decade without alerting the public, which the FDA denies.

The study was released with Memorial Day weekend approaching. Store shelves throughout the country are already crammed with tubes, jars, bottles and spray cans of sunscreen.

The white goop, creams and ointments might prevent sunburn. But don't count on them to keep the ultraviolet light from destroying your skin cells and causing tumors and lesions, according to researchers at Environmental Working Group.

In their annual report to consumers on sunscreen, they say that only 39 of the 500 products they examined were considered safe and effective to use.

The report cites these problems with bogus sun protection factor (SPF) numbers:

* The use of the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone, which penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream.

* Overstated claims about performance.

* The lack of needed regulations and oversight by the Food and Drug Administration.

But the most alarming disclosure in this year's report is the finding that vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate, may speed up the cancer that sunscreen is used to prevent.

A dangerous additive

The industry includes vitamin A in its sunscreen formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging.

But the EWG researchers found the initial findings of an FDA study of vitamin A's photocarcinogenic properties, meaning the possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight.

"In that yearlong study, tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent faster in lab animals coated in a vitamin A-laced cream than animals treated with a vitamin-free cream," the report said.  ...

via Study: Many Sunscreens May Be Accelerating Cancer - AOL News.

Slate conducted a mass experiment in altering political memories. Were you fooled?

How Slate Edited History. Click image to launch slide show.We altered or fabricated five events: Sen. Joe Lieberman voting to convict President Clinton at his impeachment trial (Lieberman actually voted for acquittal); Vice President Cheney rebuking Sen. John Edwards in their debate for mentioning Cheney's lesbian daughter (in fact, Cheney thanked him); President Bush relaxing at his ranch with Roger Clemens during Hurricane Katrina (Bush was at the White House that day, and Clemens didn't visit the ranch); Hillary Clinton using Jeremiah Wright in a 2008 TV ad (she never did); and President Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (it never happened). ...

In the first three days the experiment was posted, 5,279 subjects participated. All of the true incidents outscored the false ones. Our subjects were more likely to remember seeing Powell's Iraq presentation (75 percent), Katherine Harris presiding over the Florida recount (67 percent), or Tom DeLay leading the congressional effort to save Schiavo (50 percent) than any of the five fake scenes.

But the fake images were effective. Through random distribution, each fabricated scene was viewed by a subsample of more than 1,000 people. Fifteen percent of the Bush subsample (those who were shown the composite photo of Bush with Clemens) said they remembered seeing that incident at the time. Fifteen percent of the Lieberman subsample (those who were shown the altered screen shot of his impeachment vote) said they had seen it. For Obama meeting Ahmadinejad, the number who remembered seeing it was 26 percent. For the Hillary Clinton ad, the number was 36 percent. For the Edwards-Cheney confrontation, it was 42 percent, just seven points shy of the percentage who remembered seeing the DeLay/Schiavo episode.

When we pooled these subjects with those who remembered the false events but didn't specifically remember seeing them, the numbers nearly doubled. For Bush, the percentage who remembered the false event was 31. For Lieberman, it was 41. For Obama, it was 47. For Cheney, it was 65. For Hillary Clinton, it was 68.

These figures match previous findings. In memory-implanting experiments, the average rate of false memories is about 30 percent. But when visual images are used to substantiate the bogus memory, the number can increase. Several years ago, researchers using doctored photos persuaded 10 of 20 college students that they had gone up in hot-air balloons as children. Seeing is believing, even when what you're seeing is fabricated.

via Slate conducted a mass experiment in altering political memories. Were you fooled? - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine.

Can bacteria make you smarter? to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior according to research presented today at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

"Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature," says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks.

Previous research studies on M. vaccae showed that heat-killed bacteria injected into mice stimulated growth of some neurons in the brain that resulted in increased levels of serotonin and decreased anxiety.

"Since serotonin plays a role in learning we wondered if live M. vaccae could improve learning in mice," says Matthews.

Matthews and Jenks fed live bacteria to mice and assessed their ability to navigate a maze compared to control mice that were not fed the bacteria.

"We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice," says Matthews.

In a second experiment the bacteria were removed from the diet of the experimental mice and they were retested. While the mice ran the maze slower than they did when they were ingesting the bacteria, on average they were still faster than the controls.

A final test was given to the mice after three weeks' rest. While the experimental mice continued to navigate the maze faster than the controls, the results were no longer statistically significant, suggesting the effect is temporary.

"This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals," says Matthews. "It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks."

via Can bacteria make you smarter?.

The results so far suggest that simply inhaling M. vaccae—you get a dose just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden—could help elicit a jolly state of mind. “You can also ingest mycobacteria either through water sources or through eating plants—lettuce that you pick from the garden, or carrots,” Lowry says.

Graham Rook, an immunologist at University College London and a coauthor of the paper, adds that depression itself may be in part an inflammatory disorder. By triggering the production of immune cells that curb the inflammatory reaction typical of allergies, M. vaccae may ease that inflammation and hence depression. Therapy with M. vaccae—or with drugs based on the bacterium’s molecular components—might someday be used to treat depression. “It’s not clear to me whether the way ahead will be drugs that circumvent the use of these bugs,” Rook says, “or whether it will be easier to say, ‘The hell with it, let’s use the bugs.’”

- discovermagazine

Surprising new evidence for asymmetry between matter and antimatter

Why is there matter in the universe and not antimatter, its opposite?

Physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, including John Ellison, a professor of physics at UC Riverside, have announced that they have found evidence for a significant violation of matter-antimatter symmetry in decays of B-mesons, which are exotic particles produced in high energy particle collisions.

To arrive at their result, the research team, known as the DZero collaboration, analyzed billions of proton-antiproton collisions at Fermilab's Tevatron particle collider, and found a 1 percent excess of pairs of muons over pairs of antimuons produced in the decays of B-mesons. Muons, which occur naturally in cosmic rays, are fundamental particles similar to electrons but 200 times heavier.

Ellison said this result is exciting and surprising since it is not predicted in the Standard Model, the comprehensive theory that explains the interactions between all fundamental elementary particles.

He explained that the dominance of matter we observe in the universe is possible only if there are differences, called "CP violation," in the behavior of particles and antiparticles.

"The reason this is important is that CP violation – the fact that physics does not look the same when particles and antiparticles are interchanged and all processes are mirror-reflected – is one of the three ingredients identified by Andrei Sakharov, the famous Soviet physicist and dissident, needed to explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry observed in our universe," Ellison said. "That the universe is completely dominated by matter is a mystery because the Big Bang theory predicts that there should have been equal amounts of matter and antimatter."

According to Ellison and his DZero peers, the explanation for the dominance of matter in the present day universe is that the CP violation treated matter and antimatter differently and allowed the early universe to evolve into a situation with matter dominating completely over antimatter.

"CP violation as predicted in the Standard Model has been observed before but at a level many orders of magnitude too small to explain the asymmetry," Ellison said. "This is the first evidence for anomalous CP violation. If confirmed by further measurements, this points to new physics phenomena in particle interactions that give rise to the matter-antimatter asymmetry, and may be another step forward in our understanding of why matter dominates over antimatter in the universe.

via Surprising new evidence for asymmetry between matter and antimatter.